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Single mom receives grant to continue studies at SOU

ASHLAND — After landing a $3,000 grant to continue work on her master's thesis in humanitarian studies and indigenous rights at Southern Oregon University, Kathleen Gamer of Ashland says the money — given annually to three single mothers — will help her raise her son, Eric Hogstrom, 18, and "for us, this means Christmas."

The grant, given by the Columbia Pacific Foundation, is for $2,000, which is matched by another $1,000 from the SOU Foundation. The money will allow Gamer to attain the credentials to return to Tehran, where she became fluent in Farsi while her parents were in the U.S. diplomatic service in Iran.

"I worked with the United Nations in Tehran in the 1990s and I hope to be a liaison for cultural affairs there. I speak the language and can communicate with the people," said Gamer. "I'm interested in multiculturalism. We have to look at the world in a different way. When you understand other cultures, it makes for a peaceful world."

The grants are reserved for single mothers of exceptional talent who are attending SOU full time with a 3.0 grade-point average or better. All 30 applicants for the grants had to answer essay questions.

The Columbia Pacific Foundation, based in Vancouver, Wash., was founded by Robert and Gay MacLellan, former owners of Pacific Coast Restaurants.

In her youth, Gamer married a Finnish attache in Tehran, then lived in Finland before returning to the U.S. in 2001.

Although education and health care are birthrights in her son's native Finland, she says, "I'm here because Ashland is a great home, Eric's only American home, and it's been worth all the money in the world to have him grow up here, with peace and good schools."

Eric is a member of the Ashland High School snowboard team, rebuilds antique BMW cars in shop courses and, a veteran of advanced placement courses, will attend Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls next year, studying electrical and renewable energy systems.

When he arrived here for second grade a decade ago, Eric studied English as a fifth language — he already knew Farsi, Swedish, Finnish and Old Hungarian, he says — and mastered English by the fourth grade.

At SOU, Gamer created the United Nations Club and is its secretary-general. Discussing her career goals, she says, "The U.S. should bring back the role of cultural ambassadors, something recognized long ago by European nations. They are people who work within the cultures, bringing art and trade so people can negotiate with people on a level of custom and common understanding, rather than power and politics."

The politics of the Mideast are "nasty business," Gamer acknowledges, and she fears events that could flow out of the "Arab Spring" movements. "I'm very afraid what could happen. I have a daughter and grandsons in Tehran."

Gamer says she has gotten through college on scholarships and the support of friends and professors, as well as the growing agenda of multiculturalism at SOU.

"It's a lot of luck and hard work," says Gamer, adding that she vigorously supports the Occupy movement and its goals for affordable higher education as a tool to bring out the considerable talent in the U.S. and preserve the middle class.

The U.N. Club, she said, plans a program in February for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in which it will spotlight the persecution, as well as the achievements, of the Bahai, a group much suppressed in the Mideast.

Reach freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.